Did We Find the Best Internet on a Cruise? Maybe.

May 16, 2012 | By | No Comments

If you’re one of those cruisers that can’t fathom being away from ESPN.com for more than eight hours, or twitches if you don’t check your iPhone for messages every 25 minutes, you already know the Internet on a cruise can be, to put it mildly, an exasperating experience. Your ship may have come in, however… but not on the high seas.
Instead, the best connection we’ve found is on an AmaWaterways riverboat in Europe. It was quick, reliable … and free.
So what gives? How can a small riverboat offer such speed, but these modern megaships can’t? The biggest difference is how the ships connect. On an oceangoing ship, the connection comes through a satellite. On most riverboats, however, the ships can connect through standard 3G cellular networks — the same networks that your mobile phone uses.
Jon Burrows, AmaWaterways’ vice president of operations, told us that when Ama got its first ship, it relied exclusively on the same satellite technology oceangoing ships use. However, the line quickly grew frustrated with its limitations, including losing a connection every time the ship went under a bridge or was near a building. The connection was slow and consistent only in its ability to drop out. Within two seasons, the powers that be decided to rely not on satellite but shore-side cellular 3G networks.
Today, the 3G network is the main link to the Internet; the satellite technology, still on as a backup, is necessary only 5 percent of the time. (Satellites are used mostly in Bulgaria and Romania, or a few other isolated stretches of river where there is a lack of cellular towers.)
Says Ama’s IT manager Jacco Batavier: “We treat IT as a midsized office, using techniques companies employ in their office … For instance, we do ‘active caching.’ We know for sure there are certain pages guests will access at 7 a.m. when they wake up. So when they’re the sleeping we load those pages — like CNN. … This is a common technique in an office, but we think we are the only ones to have it on a ship.”
The end result? A much faster connection. In fact, Ama believes that its connection can sometimes be 25 times quicker than satellite. (You read that correctly.) Another benefit: Satellite connections work with a fixed amount of bandwidth, so the more users log on, the slower the connection speed will be. Those effects aren’t nearly as noticeable on a 3G connection.
Tell us: Where and when have you’ve found any particularly good (or bad) Internet connections? What is the most frustrating experience you’ve ever had with Internet when on a ship?
Want to know more on the ins and outs of at-sea Internet? Here are 9 Things You Need to Know.
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